HAVING grown up in Scotland's chilly climate, I usually only ever want to jet off to hot and sunny beach resorts for a holiday.
But this time I decided to try something new — hit the slopes in a bid to master the art of skiing.
And the white-capped peaks of Ischgl in Austria would be the backdrop to the most exhilarating and thrilling holiday I have had.
After a short flight to Zurich in Switzerland, we hopped on a bus that took us across the border to the Paznaun valley of the Tyrol.
During the three-hour journey from Zurich airport, fellow travellers — most of whom were advanced skiers — spoke of their love of skiing with such passion that a flutter of excitement began to rise in my stomach.
But as the road narrowed and the mountainous terrain dwarfed us, my excitement turned to nerves.
A warm welcome awaited at the charming Hotel Ballunspitze, a short drive from the main resort.
We tucked into a delicious spread of freshly baked bread, local meats and cheeses, and the friendly staff plied us with Austrian beer.
I retired to my spacious room early so I would have plenty of energy for the day ahead. After all, I had already been warned about Ischgl's motto: "Relax. If you can."
The next morning, ski-suited and booted, I waddled to the ski lift for my first ride and nearly missed the thing.
My friends grabbed my skis and ordered me to hop on fast because it waits for no one.
As we whizzed up the mountain, my everyday stresses and strains evaporated as I gazed at the chocolate-box surroundings. I met Eric, a ski instructor from the Schneesport Akademie, who assured me I would progress from the nursery slopes in no time.
"It's all just a dance. Turn, snowplough, together. Turn, snowplough, together," he told me with a laugh.
Well, if that was a dance, mine had the elegance of a robot trying the Viennese Waltz.
But I got the hang of it as my balance improved and to my shock I was flying down a blue run before you could say "apres ski".
And Ischgl certainly throws a good party. It is famous for its wild nightlife, starting from the moment you stagger off the slopes in the afternoon.
We headed to the Trofana Alm bar and the Kuhstall, where we linked arms and swayed from side to side singing oompah songs, sampling schnapps shots and spicy gluhweins — mulled wines.
The town itself was like something out of a Christmas fairytale, with bars, restaurants and shops in buzzing, cosy clusters. The next morning, Eric proudly declared I was ready to tackle the red run. Before I set off, there was an encouraging word or two from someone who really knows what they are talking about — former British Olympic ski racer Konrad Bartelski.
He was there to wish us virgin ski journalists well and shouted: "Just breathe. The moment you start thinking too much, you will fall on your a**e."
Ever the traditionalist, he waved us off, saying: "Watch out for those silly snowboarders." The snowboarder he was tormenting was also there to inspire us —
Jamie Barrow, the UK's fastest snowboarder, with a record speed of 94mph.
My confidence was sky high, until I realised I would be joining a group of Belgian skiers who had been hitting the slopes since they "were five years old but we're rusty".
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The fear crept in, I started to think too much and lost control. In a panic, I fell to one side half-way down the run and landed on my back.
After a few failed attempts at convincing my instructor that sliding down was my only option, I had to toughen up.
As soon as my feet were firmly on the ground at the bottom of the piste, I decided no more reds for me. I felt a bit shaken, but a ride on the new €40million gondola soon perked me up.
The Pardatschgratbahn is the second multi-million-euro lift to open at Ischgl in a year, following the Piz Val Gronda cablecar which allows free-ride skiing previously accessible only by snowcat.
Having felt as though I was flying up the mountain-side, it now seemed I was on top of the world at the Pardorama Restaurant, where we dined in the clouds.
The following night we enjoyed fine dining at the fabulous Elizabeth Arthotel. The modern art lining its gallery walls was even more impressive.
Later, James Blunt followed in the footsteps of music royalty including Tina Turner, Kylie Minogue and Robbie Williams by officially opening the winter season with an impressive concert — the perfect end to the perfect trip.
GO: ISCHGL, AUSTRIA
STAY: Seven nights' half-board in the Hotel Ballunspitze in Galtur are from £690pp when you book direct (excludes flight).
Fly with BA, easyJet or Monarch direct to Innsbruck from London or regional airports.
Erna Low offers a selection of hotels with flight packages to Ischgl. See ernalow.co.uk or call 020 7584 2841.
Stay seven nights' half-board in the Elizabeth Arthotel in Ischgl from £1,693pp with flights from London Gatwick to Innsbruck and private transfer. For more on Ischgl and to use bookings facility, go to Ischgl.com or call 0043 50990 100.
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